Geographical Distribution and Palaeo Environment-
The Mesolithic period succeeded the Upper Palaeolithic. The subsistence
economy of this period continued to be based on hunting and gathering.
There was a marked growth in human population as is attested by the significantly
increased number of sites.
For example, in the case of rock shelters in central India while the Palaeolithic
occupations occur only in a few shelters, evidence of Mesolithic culture
occurs virtually in every one of the several thousand shelters either
in the form of human habitation or paintings or both. Similarly, in the
arid and semi-arid regions of western Rajasthan and Gujarat,
which are extensively covered by sand dunes, Mesolithic artefacts
are present virtually on every one of the thousands of dunes.
What is far more significant is that the first human colonization
of the Ganga plains took place during this period as testified by the
presence of more than two hundred archaeological sites in Allahabad, Pratapgarh,
Jaunpur, Mirzapur and Varanasi districts of Uttar Pradesh (Sharma et al.
1980). Similarly, the effective colonization of the deltaic region of
West Bengal (Lal 1958) and West Coast, particularly around Mumbai (Todd
1950) and in Kerala (Rajendran 1983), took place during this period (Misra
The explanation for this dramatic increase in human settlements clearly
lies in the increased rainfall and its effect on the growth of plant
and animal life at the beginning of the Holocene period. Evidence
for significant increase in rainfall is provided by the pollen data from
the salt lakes of western Rajasthan (Singh et al. 1974), deep weathering
of sand dunes in Rajasthan and Gujarat (Misra 1978) and presence of wind
blown black clay deposits in central Indian rock shelters (Allchin et
al. 1978; Misra and Rajaguru 1986; Joshi 1978).
This led to the availability of increased food resources all over the
country and thereby contributed to the growth of population.
The technology of the Mesolithic period is primarily based on microliths.
These are tiny tools made from microblades of one to five cm length, by
blunting one or more sides with steep retouch. The main tool types are
backed blades, obliquely truncated blades, points, crescents, triangles
These microliths were used as components of spearheads, arrowheads, knives,
sickles, harpoons and daggers. They were fitted into grooves in bone,
wood and reed shafts and joined together by natural adhesives like
gum and resin. Evidence for such hafting comes from later sites in India
and from Mesolithic and Neolithic sites in the Near East, Africa and Europe
The use of bow and arrow for hunting became common in this period. Evidence
for this comes from many rock paintings in central India (Wakankar
and Brooks 1976; Neumayer 1983; Mathpal 1985). Small flake tools like
side, end, round and thumbnail scrapers, and burins also form part of
Bifacial points made by pressure flaking are a characteristic feature
of the Mesolithic industries of coastal dunes of southern Tamil Nadu (Zeuner
and Allchin 1956) and Sri Lanka. Bored stones, which had already
appeared during the Upper Palaeolithic and became common during Neolithic
and Chalcolithic periods, have also been found at a number of Mesolithic
sites. These are believed to have been used as weights of digging
sticks and as net sinkers. Similarly, shallow querns and grinding stones
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new technological elements led to enhanced efficiency in hunting, collection
and processing of wild plant foods (Misra 1976a). Heavy-duty tools like
choppers and core scrapers are occasionally found at Mesolithic site
in Orissa (Ota 1986; Mohanty 1988) and along the West Coast (Todd 1950).
Settlement Pattern and Disposal of the Dead-
Increased food security during this period led to reduction in nomadism
and to seasonally sedentary settlement. This is reflected in the large size
of Mesolithic sites, thickness of habitation deposit both in open-air and
rock shelter sites, and the presence of large cemeteries, particularly in
the Ganga plains.
The first evidence of intentional disposal of the dead comes from this period.
Mesolithic human burials have been found at Bagor in Rajasthan (Misra
1973; Lukacs et al. 1982), Langhnaj in Gujarat (Sankalia and Karve 1949;
Ehrhardt and Kennedy 1965), Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh (Misra 1976, 1997),
and Lekhahia, Baghai Khor, Morhana Pahar (Varma 1986), Sarai-Nahar-Rai (G.R.
Sharma 1973; Kennedy et al. 1986), Mahadaha (Sharma et al. 1980; Kennedy
et al. 1992) and Damdama (Varma et al. 1985; Pal 1992) in Uttar Pradesh.
At the last three sites cemeteries containing many individuals have been
found. The dead were buried in graves both in extended and crouched position.
In some cases two individuals were buried in a single grave. The dead were
occasionally provided with grave offerings, which include chunks of meat,
grinding stones, stone, bone and antler ornaments, and pieces of haematite.
Another significant feature of the Mesolithic period is art, mostly in the
form of paintings. Several thousand-rock shelters in the Vindhyan
sandstone hills in central India contain enormous quantities of paintings
on their walls, ceilings and in niches. They are found in both inhabited
and uninhabited shelters. The paintings are made mostly in red and white
pigments, which were produced from nodules found in rocks and earth.
Pieces of haematite with telltale ground surfaces showing their use for
producing pigment have been found at Bhimbetka and other sites. The paintings
mostly depict wild animals and hunting scenes, the latter by individual
as well as groups of hunters. There are also scenes of fishing, plant food
and honey collecting, and social and religious life.
The paintings throw a flood of light not only on the aesthetic sensibilities
and artistic creativity of the Mesolithic people but also on their behaviour
in respect of hunting and food gathering technology and techniques, dwellings,
social and religious beliefs and activities, and contemporary fauna.
The Mesolithic period is very well dated by a large number of 14C dates
from many sites in western and central India. These dates range from ca.
10,000 to 2,000 B.P. (Misra 1989). The hunting-gathering way of life was
slowly supplanted by food production from about 6000 B. C.
However, even after several millennia of agriculture, hunting gathering,
as a way of life has not disappeared and hundreds of communities all over
the country, including in the vicinity of metropolitan cities, continue
to subsist by this economic mode (Malhotra et al. 1983; Misra and Nagar
1994; Nagar and Misra 1989, 1990; 1993).